Brett Williams's Reviews > America's Economic Supremacy Volume 398

America's Economic Supremacy Volume 398 by Brooks Adams
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Adams remains a striking figure in American history

It’s nice to see a revival of Adam’s books again (coming every 50 years it seems), but the most recent version offered does not have Childs’ introduction (see Amazon used books). The 1947 version with a lengthy review by Marquis W. Childs, apparently a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist originally from Clinton, IA (1903 – 1990), is highly informative concerning the life and views of Brooks Adams. The book itself leaves a bit to be desired – but where else can one find a summary list of sugar prices round the world over 19th century decades? Childs notes the popularity of Adams in Europe but not in the States; the combative nature of Brooks to argue for the sake of argument, which sorely tired brother Henry; Brooks suspicion of excessive competition (recall his period, post robber barons) with need for proper government regulation (if only he could visit the 21st century); his belief that exaltation of the profit motive above all else debased American life and values. Both Brooks and Henry came to believe that by its nature and substance, “American democracy” was almost foreordained to degradation and decay, closely related to workings of economic cycles (they survived the 1893 Panic), particularly affected by inventions and technology far outpacing humanity’s ability to grasp their implications. This development, population density, plus a form of centralized commercial and administrative organization Brooks saw as responsible for shifts in social equilibrium (organization not by government, which Brooks considered a disastrous failure after George Washington, but especially with the election of Jackson over his grandfather John Quincy), often resulting in war and new rising powers. Which is what this book is mostly about: America’s reluctant rise over that of a declining, late 1800s United Kingdom. Before his death at age 79 in 1927, writes Childs, “Brooks, the agnostic, doubter and profound skeptic returned to his Puritan roots and his church, overcoming his lifelong shyness, where he stood to publicly profess his faith. An act Henry was incapable of, and underscoring their different worldviews. For unlike Henry, Brooks held out hope of awakening America to a realization of its destiny.” At the end of Childs’ intro he gives us his own opinions of American reform ca. WWII, wanting a government with the ability to make snap decisions (Heaven help us), blaming not the poor character of representatives but the Founding structure instead. (This view was on the wind after James Allen Smith’s 1907 “Sprit Of American Government.”)

As for Brooks’ book: He begins with historical reference to the Spanish War in which war-follows-money. As trade routes and routines are blocked, change, or discoveries are made to shift them, so to goes world power. Insightful is Brooks’ preconceiving of Jared Diamond’s “Guns Germs and Steel” as Brooks notes, “The peculiarity of the path of exchanges is that is lies east and west, not north and south.” (This idea is thoroughly developed just two years later in “The New Empire.”) Brooks view is heavily weighted with a kind of harsh Darwinian survival-or-perish perspective when it comes to nations (and both Adams are rather positivist in their view). He acknowledges that one nation can ruin another, not by war but by trade (China/US) and sets off to chronicle effects of sugar production and pricing between regimes. There’s also some amusing remarks sprinkled about, “In the United States where the use of sweets is said to be injuriously excessive…” Sounding like a modern description of the US, “England’s unrivaled productivity gave way to extravagance, amusement and loss of initiative, imports in excess over exports, a nation wasteful and profuse. Strangest of all is the mental inertia which prevents the Englishman from comprehending the world around him. He still looks on American competition as an accident…While Americans in particular have relied on England to police the globe and keep distant markets open, allowing her to sit at home to map her advantage without cost or danger.” Brooks closes by noting that Russia’s administration must change or suffer a major revolt (as it did 17 years later) and that the US was approaching world supremacy. But with the triumphs come scarifies and “fortune has seldom smiled on those who, besides being energetic and industrious, have not also been armed, organized and bold.” Adams remains a striking figure in American history and this book, while far short of his bombshell “Law Of Civilization And Decay,” fills in more of the Brooks perspective.
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July 30, 2014 – Shelved

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